Sunday, June 10, 2012

was it worth it?

On Friday I had the opportunity to speak on a panel. That sounds Very Official but really, it was casual and fun. It was me and two other recent Ph.D. graduates. They are from the same department as me, but each of us had a different emphasis (different classes, different area of research, different committees). The audience was a group of first-year doctoral students, and we were there to simply talk about our experiences. They asked us questions like "what was your proposal process like" and wanted us to describe our research, and our committee experiences, that sort of thing. Readers of this blog know that the last 6 or 7 months of my degree program was--to put it lightly--hell. If you don't know what I'm talking about, revisit my November/December archives. As with most blogs, there is of course a LOT that I didn't write, but that I definitely felt and experienced.

It isn't my intention to write a lengthy nostalgic post today, so I'll try to keep this brief. (Edited to add: I failed. Oh well.)

At the panel, as each of us answered the questions we were asked, and shared our dissertation stories, and occasionally the organizers would chime in telling the audience what the protocols are. Over and over, my two panel companions would basically agree that yes, it was like that for them. And then I would try to find a way to explain that it really wasn't like that for me at all, without sounding like a total downer or a drama queen.

Without any specific examples: there were a lot of differences with the way their committees communicated, what was expected of them at different stages, and that sort of thing. Their dissertations were each less than half as long as mine, and they had considerably fewer participants in their research (when it was insinuated to me a few times that I needed more, or I had possibly too few). I had a couple of feelings about that and one was jealousy, for sure. But another was a sort of martyr-like pride, I guess.

Of course, I tried to stay on topic and refrained from launching in to a lengthy, rambling, gloom-and-doom tirade about my dissertation saga with four part harmony and feeling. But after processing my thoughts about the experience, here's what I think.

I believe that all three of us produced PhD-quality dissertations. We all did everything that was required of us from our committees, and that is the goal. The end product is that we are all experts in our areas, and we're all "Docs." However: I experienced the degree in a slightly different way, I think.

I personally do not believe an advanced degree should be an emotionally-exhausting feat that threatens to break even the most disciplined person. It should be a mental workout and a major commitment, and for all of us, it was. It is NOT easy, at all. But partially because of how I approached it and partially because of various circumstances that fell into place, mine nearly wrecked me. I powered through it when anyone would have understood if I gave up, and for that I am a stronger person. I'm also a changed person. I can't describe it much more than that, but from this time last year, to now, I am very different. I think differently, I communicate differently, and I operate differently, I have different values. I attribute a lot of that change to having the figurative wind knocked out of me multiple times. To operating on such a high stress, high intensity level for so many weeks that I forgot how to unclench my jaw. And to rise above all of that anger and bitterness I felt--even though I still very much felt it for much of the spring--to hammer out a crazily long, unbelievably detailed piece of academic writing of which I am now very proud.

I was ABD (all but dissertation) for 16 months prior to graduation. I learned exponentially more in the last 6 of those months (the months I like to think of as my "darkest hour," when I'm feeling dramatic) than I did in the first 10.

So yes, this is my way of saying that all of that struggling (and sometimes, suffering) I did, which I would never wish on anyone, was worth it.

All of it.
I came, I saw, I persevered, I cried, I persevered some more, I conquered, and now I stand a little taller (yet feel a little more humble), and I have a pretty impressive story to tell.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

outsourcing, cheaper

I'm pleasantly surprised at how easy printing and binding my dissertation copies will be! And inexpensive (relatively), too.

What follows is probably one of the longer posts anyone has ever written about photocopies. Settle in.

Our university has an online submission form for theses and dissertations. During this process, the vendor they use--UMI/Proquest--will bind one copy and send it to the university library collection. This is $43, and the student (me) pays for it. I went through this process back in April, right after my defense. But, I may never see that $43 copy unless I go to the library desk and ask to see it. There was an option at that time to order personal copies, but they were $45 each and I knew there were better options locally. (I knew that if I ordered through our campus library, I could choose the color of the binding, for example!)

The issue with having the dissertation bound by the library (well, by a vendor they work with), is that I have to provide the printed copies to them. This becomes a huge pain when your dissertation is 1 BILLION PAGES LONG (or, it seems like it is!) and you need several copies.

Several weeks ago, a staff member told me to call the campus' duplication department. She said they print inexpensively and include the 25% cotton paper on which dissertations and theses are supposed to be printed. I tucked that tidbit away in the back of my mind because I was NOT looking forward to printing out 10 copies of my 315 page document, after hours, on my workplace copy machine. This process would involve:

---Buying the paper. I would need 6 boxes of 500 pages at $18.50 a box, $111 total (lowest price I could find, on Amazon with free shipping).
---Staying after work or going in on a weekend to use the copy machine so as not to hinder anyone else's use of it or interfere with my normal work stuff.
---Paying .03 cents a page ($85.05 total) for using the work photocopier (even though it's my own paper, it's their ink and a maintenance on their machine)
---Running up and down stairs and hallways to check on my progress (since my office computer isn't anywhere near the work printer)
---Possibly disturbing others whose desks/offices ARE near the printer (my workplace has swing/different shifts, so people may be working in the evening or weekend)
---Getting boxes or some kind of bags to put the copies in so as not to get them wrinkled/crunched or have them blown away as I drag them over to the library to have them bound for $11 each.

You can see why I didn't jump in to doing this immediately. Ugh.

So, following the tip I had received, I called the duplication department and I can't even believe what a great tip that was! The price was 4 cents a page, period. That included the nice paper AND allowed me to avoid doing all of the things I listed above. All I needed to do is pick them up and take them over to the library. I called today (Wednesday) at about 10 AM. I apologetically asked if they could be done by Friday because that is the due date for the library's June binding order. She told me if I sent the file now, I could probably pick them up by 1:30 or 2 (TODAY). Whoa!

I was so impressed that I sent over my husband's thesis too. He hadn't had it printed and bound yet (from last summer) because although it's decently shorter than my dissertation, neither of us has wanted to mess with making all those copies. But when I told him about this service, he sent me a PDF and I added it to my work order. I requested normal (grey-scale) printing, but they noticed that he had some color charts and someone called to ask me whether I'd like those charts printed in color (15 cents a page for those). She didn't even ask me which pages. (I wonder if they have software that notices that.) Cool! And all of this was STILL ready by the end of today.

I picked them up after work. Here they are in the car. Guess which box has my copies in it, versus the box of Mr. N's? Haha.

So the binding. Our campus library does it for $11 a copy (doesn't matter how long it is). They send them out once a month or so, and it takes about a month. I will bring those boxes to turn in for binding tomorrow at lunch, and we will receive them back in July sometime. We also get to choose the color of the canvas/fabric bound cover from about 15 choices. (I think that's cool. But I'm not daring enough to get a pink or neon orange one.)

Overall, here are the costs of my three options to print 9 copies of my 315-page dissertation and 9 copies of husband's 72-page thesis:
---Had we both ordered through UMI/Proquest, it would have been 18 copies at $45 a pop = $810
---Had I done it myself (buy paper, pay to print them, sort them myself, bring to library, and so on), it would have been $130 in paper (to print over 3400 pages), $105 in copier costs, $200 in binding costs = $435 and probably 3-4 hours of my time.
---Through the route I went, it cost $155 for the printing (paper included), $200 for binding = $355 and about 10 minutes of my time.

To break it down: For one copy of my dissertation, it cost $12.60 to have the duplicating department print it. Then to bind it will cost $11. (And I pick the color, the style of writing on the cover, etc.) So my dissertations, printed and complete, will cost $23.60 each (plus any applicable tax). Husband's thesis was considerably less per copy to print (about four bucks each, since it's a lot shorter!), so they'll be less than $15 each total when all is said and done. I'd say the amount we're saving is worth it, considering that all I have to do is drive them less than a mile from point A to point B.

Reviewing these prices, I found it especially interesting that on the submission/order page for the UMI/Proquest binding (the $45 option), it says "Producing copies of your dissertation/thesis is least expensive at the time of publication." Then it goes on to tell you how you're taking advantage of a great discount deal. Now, I may only have a Ph.D. (and it's certainly not in math), but I'm pretty sure that $23.60 is LESS than $45. Guess what: the same is true of $14 versus $45! Least expensive eh? I don't think so. (And from the picture, it looks like the same quality/type of binding.)

By the way, if you're wondering why we got so many copies: we got a few of each to keep, plus one for each committee member (this is etiquette), plus one for our department, plus one for a few family members (parents, grandparents).

While I realize that this post may not contain specific advice useful to those of you finishing up dissertations, it does come with a moral: explore your options! Call local printing services and see what is available. The cheapest or best option is not always the do-it-yourself route, or even the recommended/big box route!

I'll post a pic when they come back from the binding process! I'm excited to see the dissertation in its true and final form. I believe this will 'seal the deal' for me, mentally, in some way. For the last several weeks, I keep thinking "oh, I need to get that bound..." and now, I am in the process.